Alaska village turns to biomass heating for cheaper energy

A resident in the community of Norman Wells in Canada’s Northwest Territories gives his pellet stove a refill to heat his home. Northern communities and residents are increasing exploring biomass for heating. The village of Kake, Alaska wants to build a biomass district heating system to warm its public buildings. (Eilis Quinn / Eye on the Arctic)
Kake wants to build a biomass district heating system to warm its public buildings

An Alaska island village plans to use an advanced version of an ancient renewable energy system to lower its high energy costs.

The village of Kake wants to build a biomass district heating system to warm its public buildings while saving the community nearly $100,000 annually in energy costs, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Tuesday.

Kake was awarded a federal Department of Agriculture grant to design its biomass system. The village is now seeking funding.

The system planned for Kake, on Kupreanof Island south of Juneau, would use sensors and multiple chambers to burn wood efficiently with air quality impacts that are the same or less than heating oil systems.

The biomass heating system would use leftover wood from thinning of second growth forests or from timber operations, said Clay Good of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project.

“The cost of energy here is high, so if we can come up with some more affordable energy it’s always a good thing to pursue,” said Gary Williams, who worked for 30 years as executive director of the Organized Village of Kake.

Replacing non-renewable oil

Williams wants to use wood to replace thousands of gallons of non-renewable heating oil used in the community’s school and other large facilities.

“We’ve got a fuel supply that’s literally in our backyard. We’re in the middle of the Tongass [National Forest],” Williams. “So it would reduce the need for imported fuels and also at the same time as we harvested our local fuels, it would create jobs and put money into our local economy.”

The Interior Alaska town of Tok uses a biomass system to produce electricity through steam for its school, which Superintendent Scott MacManus said has saved the district money and created jobs since it was started a decade ago.

MacManus said challenges for the biomass system included finding people with the knowledge needed to administer the technology and to convince the community of its viability.

“One of the things about renewable and sustainable energy is that it’s got to be specific to where you are,” he said. “You have to look at what’s available locally.”

Williams said biomass heating would move Kake toward energy independence, affordability and sustainability.

“Besides making this work for our community today, we want to make sure we leave a good world for our grandchildren too,” Williams said.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Community in northern Quebec to make the jump from diesel to hydroelectricity, CBC News

Finland: How will Finland become carbon neutral by 2035?, Yle News

Monaco: Sea level rise to provoke ‘profound governance challenges’ & ‘difficult social choices’ says UN climate report, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Emissions dropping in EU, but not in Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Climate change threatens security and industry, Russian PM says, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Local councils in Sweden more interested in climate change preparedness, Radio Sweden

United Kingdom: Documentary will show climate change through eyes of pioneering scientist, Cryopolitics Blog

United States: Alaska remote diesel generators win exemption from pollution rule, Alaska Public Media

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